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The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom that is! Last week they delivered a judgement that requires the incoming government to draw up plans to reduced the levels of certain air pollutants to an already agreed maximum. This was the announcement which explains the background as well as giving the judgement. (Unlike the USA, only the Supreme Court is regularly broadcast and video available on YouTube). Please note that at 2:02, Lord Carnwath refers to “31 January 2015” when this should be read at “31 December 2015”

More official details are most accessible in the press summary (.pdf) provided by the court. The Guardian provides an easier to understand summary of the case:

London and several other British cities have failed to meet EU standards on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels since 2010, running the risk of fines from Brussels [the EU Commission] and prompting a legal challenge by NGO ClientEarth.

On Wednesday, five judges unanimously ruled in the group’s favour and said the next environment secretary must draw up a plan to meet the EU rules by the end of 2015

The main cause of the hotspots is the use of diesel powered vehicles. These have been promoted by successive governments by reduced vehicle and fuel taxes due to the fuel efficiency and the relative lower emissions of carbon dioxide. Unfortunately they produce considerably more nitrogen dioxide which is injurious to human health. New EU emission standards for vehicles have been produced but makers have yet to produce a full range of "Clean diesel" engines. The iconic London black taxis are all diesel driven as were buses previously. Transport for London has introduced the "new Routemaster" bus which is a diesel/electric hybrid. Other newer buses are hybrid and hydrogen powered.  Oxford Street in London is one of the worst places in Europe for the levels of NO2. This is mostly because only buses and taxis are allowed to travel down its whole length, all of which in one way or another use diesel fuel. Reductions should progress as the entire bus fleet moves away from pure diesel power.

This judgement is notable as being the first to bind an incoming government to make policy decisions. The plans must be sent to the EU commission by the end of the year. (R is "Regina" so the case was the Queen vs the Secretary of State, even though the case was brought on an application by ClientEarth)

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By now your news programs will no doubt be swamped by the birth of a girl to the Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton). Rather a happy coincidence that the policeman on guard outside the door is a Sikh wearing a uniform turban, the town crier by the way was an unofficial touch - we have our fair share of unique characters.

Kate has now completed her basic Royal duty as wife someone in the immediate line of succession - the production of an "heir and a spare". The last to do so, Diana, came to a rather unhappy ending but it looks like William is a devoted husband. I thought I might go a bit behind the immediate news to looks at some other effects the birth of a girl will have.

The first thing to note is that the new princess is fourth in line after Charles, William and her brother George. Before an Act passed in the last Parliament, if Catherine later has a boy, he would have been fourth and  the new princess would have become fifth. Now she will remain after George in the line of succession.

The news is of course almost totally engulfed by the birth. It comes at the last weekend of the General Election campaign and might well have an effect on the outcome. For a start, the news coverage will provide some relief from a long campaign. This is the first British General Election when the day was known years in advance, because of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. You will be hearing a lot about that in posts about the election results. Knowing the date, the parties have been on campaign footing really since their annual conferences last September.  The break may renew interest in the election and increase turnout. That could favor Labour.

The birth itself of course will be generally welcomed, especially among those who feel loyalty to the Royal family. They tend to be more inclined to vote Conservative. A more general "feel good" factor may be generated which, together with larger monthly payslips received at the end of April may well give a late boost to the Conservatives, although their poll ratings have been fairly fixed over the last week. (The increase in take home pay is due to reductions in income tax which took effect on April 5)

Longer term there will be economic effects from the birth. The publicity is always useful for the tourism industry. I alluded to another in the title. Since Diana, one of the de facto duties of the wife of an heir has been to be an unofficial clothes horse for British fashion. British fashion and fashion designs have become an important export industry. Getting copies of the latest royal design to the high street means production has to be local. There is not enough time to send the designs to China and get them back in time to still be "hot". Diana was a perfect "clothes horse" but after her death it was not really until Kate that we had a young (relatively, she was older than Diana when she married) and attractive wife of an immediate heir.  So before this birth it was quite likely that there would be another hiatus as Kate gets into her 40s and before George starts to get paired off. Now we have a baby princess to fill the slot as she reaches her late teens. Not only that, a whole new group of designers will have their work showcased as the young princess gets older. That may be limited as William and Kate keep a close family and George is almost never seen in public. They do release photos and this may well become more frequent as the family knits.

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In the UK the Disasters Emergency Committee is a coordinating body of 13 charities which work together at critical times to raise funds and ensure aid is delivered effectively. Since their launch in 1963 DEC have run 64 appeals and raised more than £1.1 billion. TV networks give DEC free time to broadcast their appeals. On Wednesday, DEC launched its Nepal Earthquake Appeal. Different videos are used by the BBC and the main commercial network ITV but both were fronted by Joanna Lumley.  Here is the BBC version:

The British government agreed to match the first £5 million of public donations pound for pound, having already released another £5 million in immediate aid. In the course of the first day the public donated over £14 million (US$21 million), with matching government funds bringing it up to £19million, a record for the first day of a DEC appeal.

Joanna Lumley has a very personal reason for fronting the appeal. She has previously campaigned for justice for the Gurkha fighters in the British Army to have equal pensions and the right to settle in the UK. She explains her link and that of the British people.

Britain has had a deep bond with the land of the Gurkhas for over 200 years. My own father, serving with the Gurkha Rifles for 18 years,  fought shoulder to shoulder with Nepalese soldiers during World War II and the Gurkhas still fight alongside our troops today. It fills me with a deep sense of sadness that death and destruction has torn their beautiful country apart.

The most heart-breaking part of all is that many of the people affected are already living in severe poverty, struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis. This earthquake – the worst for 80 years - has wiped out even the little they had. Mothers have lost children, husbands have lost wives and the numbers of dead are increasing day by day.

Even as you read this, the people who survived Saturday’s disaster are beginning to run out of vital supplies. In areas outside of the capital, many more are trapped, blocked off by landslides, and the wounded are waiting for life-saving medical treatment. The earthquake may have lasted little more than 60 seconds, but the impact will be felt for many years. The people of Nepal desperately need our help.

Reports have just come in that a plane carrying British Aid and a team of Gurkha Engineers from the British Army has arrived after being delayed by congestion at the main airport. They will be working on establishing fresh water delivery. As well as the 200 years of Gurkhas as part of the British Army, there is another deep connection with the British people.
At 11:30 a.m. on May 29, 1953, Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa of Nepal, become the first explorers to reach the summit of Mount Everest, which at 29,035 feet above sea level is the highest point on earth. The two, part of a British expedition, made their final assault on the summit after spending a fitful night at 27,900 feet. News of their achievement broke around the world on June 2, the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, and Britons hailed it as a good omen for their country’s future.
Rescue workers have gone to Nepal from all over the world. Today (Friday) a 15 year old boy, Pemba Lama, was pulled from the rubble of a collapsed hotel by a Nepalese soldier aided by a rescue team from the USA and was treated in a field hospital sent by Israel. He was working as a tour guide as he has no father and his mother had to go abroad to get work to survive. The BBC News channel reports that later a woman was rescued with help from several nations' teams..
The woman, called Krishna and in her 20s, was working as a maid in a Kathmandu hostel when the quake struck.

She was trapped in the rubble of a lower floor with the bodies of three people, including her uncle. One body had to be removed before she could be freed by rescue teams from Norway, Israel and France.

 Their rescues after so many days have provided a little hope for the ongoing rescue and recovery effort in the capital. Outside the capital, relief work has to be delivered by helicopter as roads have been swept away by landslides triggered by the earthquake. Weather conditions have grounded them but aid is just starting to get through to the villages.

After the immediate needs for shelter, water and food are met, Nepal will need help to recover. A UNESCO World Heritage site has been badly damaged. These are the cultural inheritance of all of us and all have an interest in their reconstruction so that the Nepalese can again have a focus for their tourism outside of the mountain climbing community.  The widowed and orphaned will also need long term support in rebuilding their lives. The DEC charities have specific policies to provide this.

If you do wish to donate, there are US charities that work in Nepal and are providing immediate relief. Cash is important as it means that charities can release aid supplies from strategically placed stocks. There is no comparable body like DEC and some of its member charities's US versions may not be attractive - the American Red Cross for example.  On the other hand, Oxfam America is running a special appeal. Guavaboy in his recent diary recommends the American Nepal Medical Foundation.

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Fri Apr 24, 2015 at 05:52 AM PDT

Big Food's Big Obesity Con

by Lib Dem FoP

Three authors of an editorial, "It is time to bust the myth of physical inactivity and obesity: you cannot outrun a bad diet", in the British Journal of Sports Medicine have condemned the food industry for a big lie. In short, they are conning the public by pretending that exercise will compensate for the effects of the products they peddle, especially obesity. Even those with body mass within normal limits are showing signs of metabolic changes associated with obesity. Calorie counting, without taking account of the foods these calories come from, is also rejected. The authors make comparisons between the publicity effort of the food industry to Big Tobacco in obfuscating the link between smoking and lung cancer (among other diseases).

In the past 30 years, as obesity has rocketed, there has been little change in physical activity levels in the Western population.2 This places the blame for our expanding waist lines directly on the type and amount of calories consumed. However, the obesity epidemic represents only the tip of a much larger iceberg of the adverse health consequences of poor diet. According to the Lancet global burden of disease reports, poor diet now generates more disease than physical inactivity, alcohol and smoking combined. Up to 40% of those with a normal body mass index will harbour metabolic abnormalities typically associated with obesity, which include hypertension, dyslipidaemia, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and cardiovascular disease.3 However, this is little appreciated by scientists, doctors, media writers and policymakers, despite the extensive scientific literature on the vulnerability of all ages and all sizes to lifestyle-related diseases.

Instead, members of the public are drowned by an unhelpful message about maintaining a ‘healthy weight’ through calorie counting, and many still wrongly believe that obesity is entirely due to lack of exercise. This false perception is rooted in the Food Industry's Public Relations machinery, which uses tactics chillingly similar to those of big tobacco. The tobacco industry successfully stalled government intervention for 50 years starting from when the first links between smoking and lung cancer were published. This sabotage was achieved using a ‘corporate playbook’ of denial, doubt, confusing the public and even buying the loyalty of bent scientists, at the cost of millions of lives.

Coca Cola, who spent $3.3 billion on advertising in 2013, pushes a message that ‘all calories count’; they associate their products with sport, suggesting it is ok to consume their drinks as long as you exercise. However science tells us this is misleading and wrong. It is where the calories come from that is crucial. Sugar calories promote fat storage and hunger. Fat calories induce fullness or ‘satiation’

The BBC reporting quotes one of the authors,
Dr Malhotra said: "An obese person does not need to do one iota of exercise to lose weight, they just need to eat less. My biggest concern is that the messaging that is coming to the public suggests you can eat what you like as long as you exercise.

"That is unscientific and wrong. You cannot outrun a bad diet."

The BBC also asked for a comment from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence and their spokesperson emphasized the need for a balanced diet combined with regular exercise for overall health, the authors of the editorial acknowledge these. They also asked the food industry's representatives who repeated the mantra:
Ian Wright, director general at Food and Drink Federation, said: "The benefits of physical activity aren't food industry hype or conspiracy, as suggested. A healthy lifestyle will include both a balanced diet and exercise."

He said the industry was encouraging a balanced diet by voluntarily providing clear on-pack nutrition information and offering products with extra nutrients and less salt, sugar and fat.

You will note neither of these "experts" addressed the question raised by the editorial which also charges that high fat rather than high carbohydrate diets are ideal for athletes, indeed high carbohydrate regimens are likely to cause more complications with type 2 diabetes later in life. Neither addressed was the question of the association by big food of high sugar products with sports. They have literally drunk the Gatorade!  

The big lie of course is the claim that big food is promoting products that are part of that "balanced diet". Instead, at least in the UK, they are washing their hands of their responsibility by posting the nutritional details on their package in fairly simplistic forms and leaving it up to the consumer to deduce what to do and, indeed, to assess whether the package they are picking up in the store can form part of that "balanced diet".

Some of their information appears to be solely for the purpose of avoiding litigation. Packets of brazil nuts will carry an allergy warning "May contain nuts". It also does not help if, for example, you discover the information is given "per serving" and each pack of a ready to cook prepared food contains "2-3 servings". You will also find the nutritional values as "per 100 grams" and discover their "serving" consists of one oatcake (savory cracker) weighing 12.5 grams despite the picture on the pack showing a small piece of cheese on the top of two oatcakes. The crackers themselves are in plastic wrapped packs of 6, with 4 packs in a box.

Given the confusion these mixed messages give, it is hard to argue with the recommendations in the BJSM.

The public health messaging around diet and exercise, and their relationship to the epidemics of type 2 diabetes and obesity, has been corrupted by vested interests. Celebrity endorsements of sugary drinks, and the association of junk food and sport, must end. The ‘health halo’ legitimisation of nutritionally deficient products is misleading and unscientific. This manipulative marketing sabotages effective government interventions such as the introduction of sugary drink taxes or the banning of junk food advertising. Such marketing increases commercial profit at the cost of population health. The Centres of Disease Control health impact pyramid is clear. Changing the food environment—so that individuals’ choices about what to eat default to healthy options—will have a far greater impact on population health than counselling or education. Healthy choice must become the easy choice. Health clubs and gyms therefore also need to set an example by removing the sale of sugary drinks and junk food from their premises.
Discuss

Now that's not a proposal for US elections - it is law in the UK as an Election Court reminded us today when they declared the election of a directly elected Mayor of a London borough void. He was removed from office as if the election had never taken place and banned from standing for office or voting. The accusation was one of several investigated by the court and there are also elements of corruption and Islamist extremism which are the subject of other allegations. Also of interest to Americans will be one complaint that voters were intimidated by being told it was their religious duty to vote for a particular candidate.

In Britain the position of Mayor has traditionally been ceremonial and were ordinary members of the council, elevated for a period of (often) only a year. Some still have fancy robes and chains of office. In others there is a new position of a directly elected "executive" mayor. Elected councillors have an oversight or scrutiny function but little power of decision making. In 2010 the London borough of Tower Hamlets adopted the latter format.  (I give background on the borough below the fold, this includes some information I know from working in the area up to 2001)

In 2010 the Labour Party candidate was Lutfur Rahman. He was elected but allegations of corruption and the use of dubious tactics, like signing up fake members, surrounded his nomination by Labour. These came to a head last year when the Labour Party expelled Rahman. He set up a new party "Tower Hamlets First" with a number of former Labour Party members and with the support of the Respect Party led by the former MP for part of the borough, George Galloway. A Telegraph journalist, Andrew Gilligan, who is also Cycling Commissioner for London (appointed by Boris Johnson, the Tory directly elected Mayor for the whole Greater London area) has been on Rahman's case/ Last year published a number of allegations about his conduct:

1. He won leadership of the local Labour party in 2008 with the help of Islamic Forum for Europe (IFE) which Gilligan characterizes as a radical Islamic group working to create a "sharia state" in Britain.

2. Council grants to voluntary organizations, which Rahman had sole power to grant, went to groups with IFE connections. Others were diverted from groups serving the whole community to ones only servicing Bangladeshi and Muslim clients. (Further details here)

3. Sold a valuable council property at half its assessed value to the man in charge of his campaign website.

4. Had organized false name being put on the electoral register so tiny apartments had large numbers of "voters" living there.

5. Had arranged for postal (absentee) ballot papers to be collected and completed in his favor.

6. Had intimidated other council members, members of IFA had shouted homophobic abuse at gay councillors who spoke against him.

Gilligan lists 30 allegations some of which were addressed by the Electoral Court. The Labour party removed Rahman as their candidate following and internal investigation. Last May he stood as an independent "Tower Hamlets First" candidate along with others who stood as council candidates for that party. The election was by "alternative vote". In the first round Rahman failed to get 50% so second preferences were redistributed. The result was that Rahman received 36,539 first preference votes + 856 second preference totalling 37,395.  The runner-up for Labour, John Biggs received 27,643 first preference + 6500 second preference votes totalling 34,143

Disputes over elections have a long history. By 1868 Parliament decided it was inappropriate for politicians to decide on improprieties so set up a system of "Election Courts". These are little used as they require those complaining to, in effect, bring a private prosecution at their own cost. These could be refunded if they were successful but the amounts involved meant in many cases homes and livelihoods would be put at risk. The Representation of the People Act 1983 details a number of practices that are illegal during elections.  Separately last year the government minister in charge of local government removed power to make grants from Rahman and appointed commissioners to run parts of the council.

Last May's election day involved elections for the European Parliament and the local council seats as well as for Mayor. All three use different voting methods! Reports from Tower Hamlets were of a chaotic election. The independent civil service workers running it had problems with Bangladeshi men attempting to accompany women into the voting booth and directing them how to vote. There were also allegations of intimidation with voters being told it was un-Islamic not to vote for Rahman. Serious allegations of racism were made against John Biggs.  During investigation, it was found that a number of votes appear to have be cast by the same person (this can be done by abuse of the postal vote system which had been alleged at the 2010 election). There were also allegations of personnation, the legal term for somebody pretending to be another person in order to improperly vote as them,  by Rahman's supporters.

After a long hearing, the Election Commissioner (judge) gave his verdict which you can read in full here (.pdf). He described how Rahman had "driven a coach and horses through electoral law".

The judge found that the former mayor had run a “ruthless and dishonest” campaign to portray his Labour rival in 2014, John Biggs, as a racist and also worked “hand in glove” with the head of the borough’s council of mosques to ensure that Muslims were told they had a duty vote for Mr Rahman.

A key tool in Mr Rahman’s electoral armoury was “bribery by grant”, under which he and a small number of aides took control of deciding the sums to be donated to community groups, the judge found.

The verdict includes "convictions" on several counts, two of which will be of particular interest to US readers and which I have put in bold below.
Mr Mawrey also described Bangladesh-born Mr Rahman as an "evasive and discursive witness whose evidence was untruthful on occasion" and suggested he had played "race" and "religious" cards.

...

Mr Rahman ran a "ruthless and dishonest campaign to convince the electorate his rival John Biggs was a racist", Mr Mawrey said

...

The Election Commissioner upheld a number of the allegations, including:

 Voting fraud: ballots were double-cast or cast from false addresses

 False statements made against Mr Rahman's rival Mr Biggs

 Bribery: large amounts were given to organisations who were "totally ineligible or who failed to meet the threshold for eligibility"

 Treating: providing free food and drink to encourage people to vote for Mr Rahman

 Spiritual influence: voters were told that it was their duty as Muslims to vote for Mr Rahman. Mr Mawrey cited a letter signed by 101 Imams in Bengali stating it was people's "religious duty" to vote.

Along with an aide, Rahman has been removed from office. He was also ordered to pay £250,000 in costs and will be barred from any public office for a period (I believe 3 years).

Now while Electoral Courts are exceptionally rare, disbarring a winner because of lies is not unique to this case. It was the whole reason a Labour MP was barred in 2010 in the first such hearing in 99 years. Strangely this also involved Islamic extremism, this time that his rival had their support.

Former immigration minister Phil Woolas tried to foment racial and religious divisions as part of a desperate attempt to change an election result, a court heard yesterday.

A specially convened election court was told that Labour MP Woolas and his campaign team set out to "galvanise the white Sun vote" against Liberal Democrat candidate Elwyn Watkins.

They decided to set out to "make the white folk angry" by depicting an alleged campaign by Muslims to "take Phil out" in a high-risk strategy described in their own words as "shit or bust", it was alleged.

There is a picture of one of the scare leaflets here.
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Earlier this year a tiny, frail, disabled, 67 year old pensioner was mugged as he put out the trash in the northern English city of Gateshead. His 25 year old assailant was desperate for money to pay for "legal high" drugs but went away with nothing. His victim, Alan Barnes, was left with a broken collar bone and was terrified to return to the sparse single storey home with no garden he lived in. He moved in with his sister to feel safe.

Last week Mr Barnes moved into a new house courtesy of a fund raising page set up by a local beautician who was horrified at the crime. The appeal eventually raised over £330,000 (@US$ 500,000) in donations from all over the world, in less than a week. The money was enough to buy the house with sufficient left over to refurbish it as needed and, hopefully, to allow Mr Barnes to have a break in the West Indies he has dreamed of.

His attacker, Richard Gatiss has been convicted and sentenced to four years in jail. Mr Barnes who is a church goer, while satisfied at the sentence, has expressed compassion for Gatiss.

Mr Barnes said hoped Gatiss, who suffers from drug problems, can turn his life around in prison.

"I hope if he goes to jail he will get some help in there. He's only 25, he's got plenty of time to change his life still."

"I just hope he gets his life turned around. That would be a happy ending."

The beautician, Katie Cutler has set up a charity foundation with the aim of raising £1million to help other vulnerable people.

The horrified reaction to the attack on Mr Barnes was not surprising given his circumstances. He is barely 4ft6 and weighs around 80lbs. He has been disabled from birth with severe visual impairment and other disabilities which have affected his physical appearance. Apparently he loves BBC Radio 4. His mother was told that he would be unlikely to survive to his first birthday. It is perhaps a tribute to the National Health Service, which was introduced around the time he was born, that he is alive today.  

Here is the kicker, his disabilities are a result of his mother contracting German Measles during her pregnancy with Alan. German Measles is medically known as Rubella - the R in the MMR vaccine. Its use meant that by 2005 the Washington Post headlined that the Rubella virus had been Eliminated in the United States and reminded its readers:

Mild and often entirely unnoticed in children, rubella infection can be devastating to developing fetuses. A woman infected with the virus in the first three months of pregnancy will probably suffer miscarriage, or deliver a stillborn or permanently disabled child. In the last great U.S. epidemic of rubella -- 40 years ago, before there was a vaccine against the disease -- about 12,000 babies were born deaf or deaf and blind.
In 1998 the disgraced ex-doctor Andrew Wakefield published his fraudulent paper claiming a link between the MMR vaccine and autism and bowel diseases. This was the catalyst for the anti-vaccination movement although Wakefield had suggested that parents get separate vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella. As these were not available free on the NHS, they would have to pay privately. The then Dr Wakefield ran clinics to provide this service.

The scare has had two effects. Firstly, with lower "herd immunity", the virus can spread more easily. The effect increases as the number of refusers increases and numbers of unvaccinated children balloons. More worryingly; the first cohorts of unvaccinated babies are reaching child bearing age. By 2012, the CDC were reporting on cases of congenital rubella syndrome - birth defects caused by the virus' damage. Rubella cases were reassuringly labeled as "imported" or, more worryingly from an "unknown source" but I will quote their report on one case of a baby affected by it in the womb.

Infant A. In February 2012, an infant born in Maryland at 36 weeks' gestation and weighing 4.2 lbs (1,910 g) was noted at birth to have congenital heart defects, hyperpigmented skin lesions, cataracts, cerebral edema, and pericardial effusion. Hearing impairment was suspected after the infant failed a hearing screening test before hospital discharge in February, and bilateral profound hearing impairment was diagnosed by an audiologist in June. Surgical procedures for correction of congenital heart defects and cataracts were performed in February and June, respectively. During eye surgery, the infant experienced breathing difficulties and went into cardiac arrest. Following stabilization, the infant was admitted to the pediatric intensive-care unit for observation and was later discharged.
The importance of herd immunity can be seen from the case of Japan where initially the rubella vaccine was only given to girls;
Japan first introduced the rubella vaccine into its national immunisation programme in 1976 but it was only given to junior secondary school girls. In 1989, Japan introduced the MMR vaccine for all children aged one to six, but that left a 13-year gap where no boys were immunised.

....

But men still catch the disease and in Japan, where rubella cases have shot up to over 10,000 cases, about 77% of them are in young men aged between 20 and 40.

Japan has taken steps to reduce the number of unvaccinated children. The anti-vax movement in the USA is increasing the number so herd immunity is lower. Now an increasing cohort of young unvaccinated women are starting their childbearing years. How many have immunity because of a case in infancy is unknown but given the levels of herd immunity in their childhood, the number must be low. A "perfect storm" is starting to brew.

 

Discuss

The Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, has addressed a meeting in a sports stadium to call for an end to violence against non-South Africans. This follows an upsurge in xenophobic attacks which Zwelithini, among others, has been blamed for stoking.

King Goodwill Zwelithini, traditional leader of the Zulu ethnic group, said African migrants should “take their things and go”, as they supposedly take the jobs and public resources meant for locals.

President Jacob Zuma last year said that South African blacks should not behave as if they were “typical” blacks from “Africa”. The African National Congress general secretary, Gwede Mantashe, blamed “foreigners” for stoking unrest in South Africa’s platinum belt.

In January this year, the small business development minister, Lindiwe Zulu, said the businesses of foreign Africans based in townships could not expect to coexist peacefully with local business owners unless they shared their trade “secrets”.

The xenophobic violence has much in common with the rise of right wing parties in Europe, increasing unemployment causing resentment against foreigners who are seen as taking locals' jobs. The two ends of the continent also share another factor - refugees fleeing war and violence in their home countries.

South Africa (and neighboring Botswana) has long been host to an estimated three million Zimbabweans fleeing a combination of economic hardship and the tender mercies of Robert "I am Hitler" Mugabe. Mugabe's tribally divisive policies, favoring his own Shona tribe (and particularly his own sub-tribal group) against the minority Ndebele. While cross-Limpopo (the river mostly marking SA's northern border) trade has long meant the actual border was fairly fluid, Mugabe's violent suppression of opposition led to a new exodus from the 1980s into the major South African cities, particularly Johannesburg. His disasterous and corrupt farming policies led to a decimation of the productivity in the main Ndebele area known as Matebeleland which was the "bread basket" of the region. These two factors pushing Zimbabweans into exile continue. Droughts in Matebeleland are extreme this year:

MATEBELELAND South provincial affairs minister Abedinico Ncube has warned of looming starvation in the drought prone region.

Addressing hundreds who gathered for the annual Governor's Ball- an Independence Day eve dinner meant to raise funds for charity-Ncube said poor rains had resulted in the wilting of crops across the province.

“Poor rains have resulted in the wilting of crops especially maize; people are on the verge of hunger but government will do everything to ensure no one starves and this will be done through ZimAsset,“ said the minister in Gwanda.

What to others seems incongruous - the announcement of a potential famine at a fancy dinner for Zim's political elite - is rather par for the course. Mugabe's birthday is an annual cause for excess in the Presidential palace in Harare. His cronies of course deny that his policies are the reason for the exodus, preferring to blame western sanctions. Rumors of Mugabe's death earlier this year indicate an increase in inter-communal violence once he does die:
In a latest gulf, a Zimbabwean woman Patience Gumbanjera Mlauzi purportedly resident in South Africa, this morning shot through a shocker tribal comment castigating the Ndebele speaking people of the country over Mugabe’s death.

Reacting to a Bulawayo24 news opinion column “Mugabe’s death not regretted before Gukurahundi apology” by Ryton Dzimiri, Gumbanjera Mlauzi from nowhere uttered a shocking tribal slur at the Ndebele people.

In his article Dzimiri was calling on President Mugabe to apologise for the murder of more than 20 000 Ndebele people in the hands of Gukurahundi before he dies if his death is to be respected and regretted by the Ndebele people.

In her comment, Gumbanjera Mlauzi (pictured) says that the Ndebeles must not celebrate Mugabe’s death as it is a sign of lack of hunhu/ubuntu.

According to her the Ndebeles have not cried enough, they are yet to cry.

She envisages being the country’s head of state and if she gets the chance would “kill all Ndebele speaking lizards”.

We can also "look forward" to a power struggle between Mugabe's wife,  (who last year characterized Ndebele men as "lazy people who are only interested in sex and notorious for abusing women") and other high ranking officials in ZANU-PF.  She is sometimes called "Gucci" Grace Mugabe after her shopping trips in Europe, courtesy of the Zimbabwe national coffers - a sort of African Imelda Marcos.

Zimbabwe is though only one of many countries from which South Africa draws migrants, either political or economic. Robberies in Cape Town are often put down to "the Nigerians". The situation though has been significantly influenced by the experience of Apartheid and the incompetence of post-Mandela governments. In a well considered opinion piece for the Guardian, William Gumede explains the deep veins of violence Apartheid has left but also highlights statements by SA President Zuma and others:

South Africa is facing two crises simultaneously: the government is not delivering effective public services to the poor, while the economy is in a slump with job losses in the private sector and increasingly in the public sector.

But democratic institutions, such as parliament, are also perceived to be failing poor black South Africans. Because of this, people increasingly seek answers in populist, tribalist, ethnic and fundamentalist “solutions”. They look for scapegoats, whether “capitalists”, “settlers”, “foreigners”.

The country’s existing party political system, its parties and leaders are not responding to the needs of the majority of voters. Many disillusioned citizens therefore increasingly withdraw from politics or stay away from voting. The ANC, despite the fact that it received 62% of the vote in last year’s national elections, is losing its hold over black society. There is nothing to replace it yet.

For those of us who remember heady days of the first OPOV elections with black and white, maid and mistress lining up to vote together, this is a sad but perhaps inevitable development. In some ways it is a characteristic of developing democracies but South Africans have been failed by the ANC molding the country as a near-one party state. That might not have been a problem if the last two Presidents were unifiers like Mandela. My own view has long been that it will take the post-liberation generation of politicians to cement the country as "the Rainbow Nation". We can only hope developments outside the country reduce the causes of xenophobia and the government can find an accommodation between the aspirations of the urban and rural poor and the stability of the economy.
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I have my poll card for the UK General Election on May 7. Later I will give more snippets about the UK voting process for general Kos readers. First I have to remind people living in the UK that they only have a few days left to register to vote. The deadline is April 20 and you can register on line here.

Note I have said residents as people other than UK citizens have the right to vote. You can also vote at General Elections if

you are over 18 on voting day, resident in the UK and:

You are a citizen of the Republic of Ireland.
You are a Commonwealth citizen, including Malta and Cyprus (see below).

If you are a citizen of an EU country that is not in the Commonwealth, you can also register to vote but you will only be able to cast a ballot at local government and EU elections, not the upcoming General Election.

You may already be on the electoral register and this process is for last minute registrations. The normal procedure is for you to register at the place you lived last September 30. Local governments distribute registration forms to all residential properties in their area around the start of September. This time the process has changed slightly. Previously it was the "head of household" who filled in the form for everybody living at the property. This time each voter had to fill in a form for individual registration. In most areas, the forms are sent out with the details from the previous year's registration details filled in. I for example only had to enter two passcodes on line (or sent by text) to confirm that nothing had changed. Earlier this year, at formal start of the Register in February, I got a confirmation that I was registered. I have also received my Poll Card (late last week) telling me where to vote. You may also have already received a personally addressed "electoral address" from one of the parties.  If you have received these sort of communications, you are already registered so no need to panic. You can confirm you can vote by phoning the electoral registration department at you local town hall.  

I hope that the above has given US Kos readers an idea of the differences between the process in the UK. Note that party affiliations are not part of the Register. Parties have other ways of identifying their voters. More details below the LibDem flourish.

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Later this year, the UK is to become the first country to introduce a nationwide scheme to vaccinate babies against Meningitis B. In 1999 it was the first to introduce Meningitis C vaccination. What makes the Men B interesting is the way in which it was decided to incorporate this as free vaccine when last year it was deemed too expensive. It provides a case study of how "single payer" systems decide whether to include a treatment in the list of those available under their scheme.

Meningitis B is a horrible disease which primarily affects the very young. Even if caught early enough to avoid death, which still happens in about 1 in 10 of cases, around one in four will be left with some sort of effects. The nature of the disease means that gangrene can set in and amputation of the limbs can be necessary.  Other side effects can include deafness and mental impairment. You might, therefore, think it would be an obvious candidate for universal child immunization. The problem of course is all the other calls on limited funds that have to be weighed against the benefits of new drugs and vaccines. To take an extreme example, there are a couple of candidates for an effective vaccine against Ebola, the potentially fatal effects of which we are familiar with. However it would be totally illogical to spend enormous amounts of money on inoculating the whole population of a western country against it. How then do you assess whether a new drug or vaccine is cost effective?

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The Daily Mail in the UK and others are pointing out similarities between an Argentinian movie released in Britain this week (but in Germany last year) and the Germanwings plane crash.  

Argentinian film Wild Tales features a mass killer who locks himself in the cockpit of a passenger jet and crashes it in to the ground to murder everyone on board.

In terrifying scenes the fictional passengers panic and one tries to smash his way through a door to get to the controls in chillingly similar circumstances to the ill-fated Germanwings Airbus A320 flight.

The fictional killer invites his enemies on to the flight, including a lover who jilted him and a colleague who was hard on him at work, so he can kill them.

There are some elements here that are of course different. In the film, the pilot has invited enemies on board and that included his ex-girlfriend. The plane is crashed into her parent's home. We do however know that Andreas Lubitz is believed to have had a recently broken relationship. The Guardian quotes a German newspaper:
Citing police sources, Bild said the investigation was examining whether Lubitz had been suffering from a “personal life crisis”. He is said to have had relationship problems with his girlfriend and to have suffered emotional problems. The local Westerwälder newspaper said Lubitz and his girlfriend had been together for seven years and lived in a flat in Düsseldorf.
Although not his girlfiend's house, Lubitz knew the area of the crash well and had flying lessons in the area:
A German co-pilot who deliberately flew a passenger airliner into a French mountainside killing 150 people was "obsessed" by the Alps and was well acquainted with the area of the crash, according to people who knew him.

Andreas Lubitz, a gliding enthusiast from the village of Montabaur, north of Frankfurt, took part in at least one class organised by his local flying club in the French Alps' province where he brought down Germanwings Flight 4U9525 earlier this week.

Of course until investigations into Lubitz are complete we will not know for sure if he had seen the film but some of the similarities are compelling. It also brings motives of the distribution company, Sony, in not withholding the release of the movie in the USA and Britain until after the matter has been cleared up. Certainly there are elements of bad taste in the decision not to do so.

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Don't panic, there's not been a coup, merely the ending of the business of Parliament in preparation for the General Election in May. The process is an ancient one called "Prorogation" or suspension of Parliament prior to its dissolution on Monday. From then until the State Opening there will be no MPs and those elected in 2010 are banned from entering the Houses of Parliament until after the election. Many will not be contesting the 2015 election but those who are will be merely candidates.

The process of Prorogation is the prerogative of the Queen however this year marks a significant change in the British constitution and one of the Acts which now comes into force changes a constitutional provision that has been in place for 300 years.

Unlike the State Opening of each year's session, the Queen does not personally attend for Prorogation. Instead she appoints a Commission to act on her behalf "under the Great Seal". The final work of the Parliament is for the Commons to attend the Lords after being summoned by Black Rod. As at the opening, the door to the chamber is slammed in his face. As a representative of the Queen he must ask permission to enter.

Once in the Lords, the names of the bills passed by the Commons and Lords as yet not Acts are read. After each, the Clerk of Parliament uses the Norman French phrase "La Reigne le veult" or "The Queen Agrees" or more literally, "the Queen raises it" [from a bill to an Act]. If there is not other implementation date or if it is not subject to a later order, the now Act's provisions come into effect at midnight.

This year one of those new Acts change the succession to the throne in two ways. First, "Primogeniture" is abolished. That was the right of the first born son to succeed after the death of the previous monarch. Now it is simply the first born. While this will not affect the line from Elizabeth to Charles to William to George; it may affect the position of the new child William and Kate are expecting. If it is a girl; she will now follow George in the line of succession whether or not any future child is a boy.

Since 1701, the Act of Settlement has banned a British monarch from marrying a Roman Catholic. One of the Acts passed today removes that prohibition but the monarch, as titular head of the Church of England must still be protestant.  Incidentally, the Act of Settlement also provided for:

No foreigner, even if naturalised (unless born of English parents) shall be allowed to be a Privy Councillor or a member of either House of Parliament, or hold "any office or place of trust, either civil or military, or to have any grant of lands, tenements or hereditaments from the Crown, to himself or to any other or others in trust for him."
Although subsequent British nationality laws made naturalised citizens the equal of those native born so this provision no longer applies; it is echoed in the US Constitution's requirement that the President be a "natural born citizen".

After the formal Royal Assent has been given, the head of the Commission reads a "Queen's Speech" on her behalf summing up the work of the Parliament. In practice this is written by the outgoing government. The Commons then return to their chamber for the final formal business, the confirmation of the bills receiving Royal Assent and the instrument of Prorogation.

Another constitutional change comes into effect this year. Instead of the dissolution being a simple Royal Prerogative, although requested by the Prime Minister; the Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011 now provides for a 5 year term. There are provisions to call an early election which I'll comment on later but otherwise the timetable is fixed.

After Prorogation, MPs have a few days to "clear their desks" but at midnight on Sunday they cease to be Members. The General Election campaign formally starts.

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The Saudi Ambassador to the United States has announced thatSaudi Arabia has intervened in Yemen in support of the beleaguered President.

The Saudi ambassador to the United States says his country has begun airstrikes against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who drove out the US-backed Yemeni president.

Adel al-Jubair said on Wednesday that a coalition consisting of 10 countries, including the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), had begun airstrikes in Yemen.

He said that the Saudis "will do anything necessary" to protect the people of Yemen and "the legitimate government of Yemen."

"The kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its GCC allies and its allies outside of the GCC have decided to respond to the requests of the legitimate president of Yemen [Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi ]", Jubair said in a press conference in Washington.

The Saudi ambassador said that the Houthis controlled ballistic and heavy weaponry, and could take control of the country's air force

(Note this link is to a page which is subject to updating as the news progresses)
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